Hopkins draws first blood in title hunt
11 September 2011
John Hopkins has closed the gap on Tommy Hill and Shane Byrne in the fight for the 2011 MCE British Superbike Championship title after prevailing in an absorbing encounter at Donington Park.
The race lived up to its billing as a showdown with Hopkins, Hill, Byrne and Michael Laverty all dicing for position from start-to-finish, though it would take a couple of key moments for Hopkins to emerge on top.
Indeed, the race initially began as an exchange between Byrne and Laverty, the HM Plant Honda rider slicing his way to the front into Redgate from fifth on the grid, though Laverty would snatch the position back midway around the first lap.
Hill – who had dominated free practice and smashed the lap record in qualifying - held third initially, only for Hopkins to move ahead of him on lap two. Simultaneously, Byrne was back in as well, even if this didn't translate to him stretching the field out.
Indeed, with the top four bunched up – and Jon Kirkham and Peter Hickman keeping a watching brief in fifth and sixth -, any error was waiting to be pounced upon.
That almost came on lap ten when Byrne ran wide into the final corner, allowing Hill, who had now fought his way past both Hopkins and Laverty, to get a run on him.
While it didn't change the order, it served to bunch things up again and gave Hill the confidence to attempt a pass at the same corner two laps later. However, the slightly rushed entry would catch Byrne unawares, sending both riders wide and giving Laverty and Hopkins the chance to pass both.
Almost four abreast across the finish line, though Hopkins's greater momentum carried him past both Byrne and Hill into the braking area, it was Laverty's braver early turn-in that took him through into the lead, ahead of the Suzuki man. Byrne and Hill, meanwhile, were down to third and fourth respectively.
This would prove the critical moment of the race, with both Laverty and Hopkins gapping Byrne and Hill, the pair unsettled by their close coming together.
Heading into the final laps, Hopkins continued to trail Laverty but upped the pressure on lap 17 as he slipped through under braking into the Esses. Laverty stayed close and attempted to respond, but a few heart-stopping moments on the final lap would see him settle for second behind the American.
Hopkins's win – his third of the season – gives him a much-needed boost in the standings having been forced to skip Cadwell Park, while the Samsung Crescent Suzuki rider will also start race two from pole position by virtue of his fastest lap.
With Hill in third, the Swan Yamaha man continues to lead the way in the standings, but he is just two points ahead of Hopkins, ten points up on Byrne and fifteen points ahead of Laverty.
Behind the top four, Kirkham completed a good start to the day for Samsung Crescent Suzuki with fifth position, ahead of Josh Brookes, who lost touch with the leaders before fighting back and passing Peter Hickman late on.
However, the sixth and final title fighter, reigning champion Ryuichi Kiyonari, endured a disappointing race after mechanical problems forced him to retire.
Fresh from his podium on a Supersport Honda last weekend, James Ellison finished eighth, ahead of Martin Jessopp and top EVO rider Graeme Gowland. New WFR Honda rider James Westmoreland enjoyed a good debut in 11th, ahead of new MSS Colchester Kawasaki rider Ian Lowry, Glen Richards, Tommy Bridewell and Barry Burrell.